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Bielema's introductory press conference provided some insight into the new coach's personality and some answers into what may lie ahead for the Hogs
On Wednesday, Arkansas fans got their first look at the new head Hog. Most were already on board with Bret Bielema, thanks to a resume that includes nearly 10 wins per season and three straight Big 10 championships. (Try to find another recent hire, at any school in the country, with that kind of background. Or don't, because you won't.)
Still there were doubters, and in pockets of the fanbase, there still are. Even those among us pleased with Jeff Long's hire -and this one is all Long's - had some misgivings.
But that was before we were properly introduced to the new coach.
To say Bielema won the press conference would be akin to saying Wisconsin won its game over Nebraska in the Big 10 Championship Game and neglecting to mention that the Badgers scored 70 points, including 42 in the first half, and finished with 640 yards of total offense.
His confidence was obvious, his wit was sharp, his personality immense. And maybe most encouraging to a fanbase that has survived Houston Dale Nutt and John L. Smith, he showed an ability to think on his feet without resorting to hucksterism or slipping into the realm of the weird.
And in a welcome straight-forward fashion, he answered some of the questions that will be weighing heavily on the minds of fans in the coming weeks.
Below is a look at some of the key areas covered in the introductory press conference and what Bielema had to say on each topic:
Those who were less than thrilled with the hire cited Bielema's run-first offenses at Wisconsin and doubted whether the same system could work at Arkansas.
First, it should be noted that Bielema comes from a defensive background and while he won't be in charge of the offense, it stands to reason that as a defensive-minded head coach he'll prefer a more conservative approach that controls the clock and wears down the opponent. But he also made sure to stress his desire for balance.
"Our offense at Wisconsin during my seven years commonly got grouped into traditional Big Ten offense. Especially for everyone in here, whether you're a Wisconsin fan or not, have probably heard of Ron Dayne, the national rushing record holder. Back then they did run the football. I played against them. They ran the ball 60 times because they could. It's a lot easier to run the ball than to throw the ball. The part that is real is during my time at the University of Wisconsin, we did have great balance. We were one of two or three teams that ran for 200 and threw for 200 (yards per game). That shows great balance, but it's very difficult to defend."
We should also point out that the type of offense he's talking about is the same kind run by both teams in the SEC championship game, both teams in the national championship, the Pac 12 champion and, of course, the Big 10 champ.
"To future recruits in Arkansas, I will tell you this that one of the first things that attracted me to Arkansas is that it is just the University of Arkansas in this state. I realize there are other universities, but nobody is playing Division I football at the level that we are going to play. If anyone in this state can play at a championship level we need them here at the University of Arkansas. That is very, very important."
Nutt talked about building a fence around the state's borders. At Wisconsin, Bielema did it. During his tenure, every four-star prospect the state produced became a Badger.
In Arkansas, his perfect record will be tested quickly. The state's top prospect and one of the top running backs in the country, Little Rock's Altee Tenpenny, is committed to Alabama. Bielema has plenty to sell him: Montee Ball's name is all over the NCAA record books, and in 2010 the Badgers were just 4 yards shy of becoming the first team in FBS history with three 1,000-yard rushers in the same season. That said, Alabama has been churning out first-round NFL draft picks at running back, so swaying Tenpenny will be a test.
(Texas is) a very fertile area, and you'll have your battles, but we'll have to have that area covered well. One of the neat things I've been able to do in my time as an assistant coach, coordinator, and head coach, is to recruit the state of Florida. Especially in South Florida. In the state of Florida you'll have kids that will leave, and especially when you get below Orlando, those kids will go anywhere. I'm excited to get there. I've signed over 50 kids from the state of Florida in my coaching career. Some of those guys have been my best players. At Wisconsin our secondary this year is the best since I've been there, and we have three of the four players from the state of Texas.
While Arkansas has often thrived with home-state players in starring roles, the population base and talent pool is relatively small, so the roster must be supplemented. Bielema's inroads to Florida will be crucial, and it will be interesting to see how much success he has in Texas now that he's got the SEC and a shorter trip from home to pitch to prospects.
"I believe in player development. I believe that a player in year one is going to be a good player but in year four he can be great if he is developed. Not only developed physically, but mentally and socially. Those are three things that go together in a big, big way."
Bielema's recruiting was another knock on him from the doubters, and it's true his classes have never been among the country's (or even the conference's) elite. Yet somehow, they keep winning titles.
There are two possible reasons why, and the truth is likely a combination of the two:
1. Bielema and his staff are top-flight evaluators of talent
2. Bielema and his staff are top-flight developers of talent
Consider that Montee Ball was a three-star prospect, and you see the above at work. It should also be noted that recruiting sites typically award higher marks to larger recruiting classes, and Bielema's classes have typically been small due to the Big 10's stricter rules regarding oversigning and a lack of attrition on the Badgers' roster.
For an Arkansas program that has already lost the bulk of its 2010 and 2011 recruiting classes, some stability would be a very good thing.
Bielema didn't directly answer whether or not he took less money to pay his assistants more, but everything he did say leads one to believe it was a major motivating factor in his decision to leave Wisconsin.
When I began to have more and more success at Wisconsin, I stayed, but a lot of my coaches left. I just wasn't able to compensate them in a way that other coaches were. I lost three coaches last year that were making $225,000 to making over $400,000 each. I know I'm hiring the right guys because everybody keeps taking them from me. The NFL, they kind of upset me because they've got silly money, they've got monopoly money. So this year, as soon as we won that game, I had three coaches come to me the day after the game and they had been contacted by other schools, offering them money that I can't bring them at Wisconsin. Wisconsin isn't wired to do that at this point. I felt that for me and my future, and for my wife, and what I wanted to accomplish in the world of college football, I needed to have that ability to do that.
He also made it clear that each current member of the Arkansas staff will be interviewed before any decisions are made on who to retain and that finding a new offensive coordinator would be the first task; he's already got a list of six candidates in mind.
Maybe even more than recruiting, this will be the most interesting news to follow in the days and weeks ahead. One name to keep an eye on is Charlie Patridge, Bielema's co-defensive coordinator at Wisconsin and a strong recruiter in Florida.